Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The familiar noun προφητης (prophetes) is a word like αγγελος (aggelos), in that it represented something so contrary to the post-Constantinian religious climate that it was not properly translated but rather transliterated into English (as "prophet" and "angel" respectively) and given a meaning more conductive of the objectives of humanity's leaders. In the original, however, prophets relate to angels the way fish relate to birds. We'll explain:
Prophets and Ichthyostega
Our noun προφητης (prophetes) describes someone who engages in the act described by the otherwise unused verb προφημι (prophemi), which in turn consists of the preposition προ (pro), meaning before or in front of, and the verb φημι (phemi), which means to convey. It means to relay, to pass on information from or about an entity one represents.
This verb describes the utilization of any kind of medium or agent that performs the transmission of data — and the quality of the connection between minds depends of course on the conductivity of the medium or the skills of the agent.
Our daily communications with other people are conveyed only in small part by words. Most of it is carried by non-verbal agents, and a bunch of those are involuntary (smells we emit, micro-expressions, gestures and facial expressions from reflexes). That in turn means that modern humans communicate largely in the same way as our distant ancestors did, long before they began to speak. Think of it this way: when you have a family barbeque and everybody decides to put all phones, pads and laptops away, you are pretty much identical to a family having a barbeque in the 1950's. Although the difference permeates our whole identity, the difference itself is only the size of a smart phone.
Speech depends on convention. Words have to be agreed upon before they can be used and the invention of the noun gave mankind's mind solid ground (see our article on the noun ονομα, onoma, meaning name or noun). Words allowed not only the exchange of highly detailed information but also abstract reasoning and complex thought. Words not only allowed the exchange of thought, it actually formed thought. Having words in your head makes an enormous difference in the kind of thoughts you have, and what you think about and what you talk about are really the same thing.
The convention of words brought about a diversity of expression. With words, technology could be discussed and shared over much greater areas, which in turn sped up the development of technology and broadened mankind's convention and diversity. Writing allowed thought to be conveyed over much greater distances without data-degradation, and the development of the alphabet allowed every common person to share in the exchange of information (see our article on the verb γραφω, grapho, to write). Later the printing press allowed for an even greater distribution of information, and in our time the Internet and finally blockchain technology is causing the world-wide convention and unthwarted diversity the ancients dreamed of.
But as impressive as it is, all this technology and diversity is like an island of solid conscious convention in an ocean of subconscious convention in an even greater ocean of subconscious non-convention (hence the term "waters under the earth"; Exodus 20:4, 2 Peter 3:5). As noted above, most of our human communication still lives in the "waters under the earth" but the world we have built for ourselves stands firmly on our tiny little island of convention. Before we crawled on land, before we devoted ourselves to the convention that would lead to nouns, to script, to receiving the written Law, to receiving the Word in the Flesh — long before all that, we all lived wholly in the ocean that connected all things to all other things (compare Genesis 1:9 to 11:1-4). Long before man invented the noun, mankind was intimately familiar with the whole of everything (Matthew 18:10). We weren't the dumb brutes that popular history makes us out to be. For hundreds of thousands of years we were as insightful and sophisticated as we are now, but we still lived in the same mental ocean where all speechless animals today still live.
All this means that the tower we are building for ourselves (see our article on the word מגדל, migdal, meaning tower) may provide us with a wonderfully secure home, but the top of the tower is not where its growth comes from. The growth still comes from the ocean. We moderns call this phenomenon "inspiration" but the ancients referred to it as "fishing" (Isaiah 19:8, 50:2, Jeremiah 16:16, Ezekiel 29:4-5, 47:9-10, Hosea 4:3, Habakkuk 1:14-17).
Obviously, you're not a golfer
Possibly because fishing was so very common in the ancient world, references to fish are surprisingly rare in the Old Testament — and surprisingly abundant in the New. Still, most Biblical references to fishing are about obtaining nutrition from the ocean of sub-convention and either sell it to humanity as is (because most of us simply aren't fishermen) or eat it for one's own mental sustenance (Job 12:8). Plurality works in Hebrew different than in English and Jonah's famous stay in the midst of the "great" fish (Jonah 1:17) may in fact speak of "many" fish and thus rather tell of Jonah's three days of wild psychotic uncertainty, not unlike Paul's three days of blindness (Acts 9:9) and Jesus' three days' stay in the grave (compare Jonah 2:10 to Acts 9:18 and John 21:5-13).
In the Bible, rivers always represent the economic backbone of cultures and societies (Genesis 2:10-14 covers the entire fertile crescent from Ethiopia to the Indus Valley), and the death of the fish in the Nile heralded the accumulative collapse of Egypt's entire system (Exodus 7:18, also see Numbers 11:5 and Psalm 105:29). God forbade making a graven image of a fish (Deuteronomy 4:18), but the Philistines did it anyway and called it Dagon (Judges 16:23), and worshipped it until the ark of YHWH knocked it over (1 Samuel 5:2-5).
By the time of the Return, fish began to be more appreciated in Judah. One of the gates of the restored city of Jerusalem was called Fish Gate (2 Chronicles 33:14, Nehemiah 3:3, Zephaniah 1:10), but the actual fish still came from the Phoenicians (Nehemiah 13:16). Judah's fish specifically came from Tyre, which was also the town from which hailed Hiram, who built Solomon's temple. The story of Hiram and Solomon building the temple of YHWH, of course, tells of the invention of the alphabet by the Phoenicians and subsequent vowel notation by the Hebrews. By the time the Word became flesh (John 1:14), the true followers of the Word were drafted from among fulltime fishermen (Matthew 4:18).
In antiquity, people were far less religious than they are today. This is because in antiquity a conviction that had no relation to reality would bring reality down with a vengeance. Without proper know-how, one would quickly find himself within striking range of wild animals (2 Kings 2:24), the custodian of a failed crop and the father of a starving family (Proverbs 12:11, 28:19), the recipient of the wrath of a peeved neighbor (Jeremiah 9:5) or even the subject of invasions by neighboring kingdoms (Job 36:12, Proverbs 5:23, 10:21).
Before connecting all kinds of grandiose claims to it, the "Word of the Whole of Everything" equals whatever it is that makes the universe tick (Colossians 1:16-17). It's the natural law that governs all natural processes and that provides evolution with an attractor to aim for — the condition of maximum entropy that the Bible calls the New Jerusalem (and of which the entropy greatly exceeds that what physicists call Heat Death). The Word is not some esoteric mystery that has to be obtained by specially trained people, but all around us and openly observable by anyone with eyes in their heads (Deuteronomy 30:11-14). The Kingdom based on the Word is, likewise, not somewhere far away or to be constructed by supermen and billionaires but within us. We are all as extremely intimately familiar with it as with our own DNA (Luke 17:21, see Jeremiah 31:33, Romans 2:15, Hebrews 10:16).
Lack of scientific knowledge and practical technology destroyed entire peoples (Hosea 4:6), and since misinformation was a deadly weapon, the peddlers of misinformation were charged with murder and forthwith executed (Deuteronomy 18:20-22, 1 Kings 18:40). People can learn all about the Creator by investigating creation (Romans 1:20), and the worship of the Creator is conducted in social peace and scientific truth (Exodus 34:6, Joshua 24:14, 2 Samuel 2:6, 2 Kings 20:19, Esther 9:30, Psalm 25:10, 61:7, 85:10, Proverbs 3:3, Isaiah 25:1, Jeremiah 33:6, John 1:14, Ephesians 5:9). The Word of God describes nature and is the same always (Matthew 5:18, Hebrews 13:8), yet the presence of the Word within humanity grows over the ages (Psalm 12:6, Luke 2:52, 1 Thessalonians 5:21). Christ is called Faithful and True (Revelation 19:11) and in him are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3).
A prophet of the Most High investigates nature and develops effective technology. He always speaks sound and scientifically falsifiable truths, and stays far away from speculative nonsense that has no relation to observable reality (1 Kings 4:33).
Prophets of the Most High are not specific of some religion and these people pop up independently in every culture of the world. Long before Abraham arrived in Canaan, Melchizedek was there serving the Most High (Genesis 14:18), and had a thriving but wholly indigenous school going, independent from any other wisdom tradition (Hebrews 7:3). When Moses hightailed out of Egypt, he ended up in Midian in Arabia, where he met priest Jethro (Exodus 2:16), who proceeded to introduce Israel to the very principle of personal autonomy and responsibility of which Christ would be the ultimate manifestation (18:20). As noted above, the first temple was built and partly funded by Phoenicians (1 Kings 5:1). The second temple was ordered and funded by the Persians (2 Chronicles 36:23, Ezra 6:3-5; see for more on the world-wide nature of the Biblical wisdom effort our article on the name Mary).
To fathom all mysteries and all knowledge
Before the Greco-Romans destroyed the world and invented religion as we know it, the world was Hebrew-Phoenician in Africa and the Near East, Celtic in Europe and Zoroastrian in Persia (where Abraham emerged from). The Hebrew word for prophet was נביא (nabi'; hence the name Barnabas), which probably has to do with a passive form of the verb בוא (bo') meaning to come. The word Nabi, therefore, refers to "that which had been made to come" and refers to the entire wisdom tradition that was fished up from the waters under the earth and had built us the magnificent tower from the invention of the noun up to the Internet and blockchain technology. It's what Haggai called "the desire of all nations" (2:7).
The Celts of Europe (who ranged from Gaul in France to Galatia in Modern Turkey) had three kinds of servants of the Nabi: Druids, Vates and Bards. The Druids comprised Celtic society's highest authority and even outranked the government and military — druids had the authority to stop armies in their approach and send everybody home. Druids were similar to the Semitic Nabi in that both these functions were based on actual talent and skill and not on political favoritism. They were not elites in aristocratic sense of the word, but simply very good at science. Since the gift of science is not gender-specific, Celtic Druids could be female as much as the Semitic Nabi and our modern scientists.
In ancient Rome, the priestly elite called Fetiales had similar standing and function, albeit in subjection to the political government and apparently as a men-only club. But the crucial difference was that where a true Nabi eagerly seeks the ways of the Lord and helps society settle into the freedom that natural law provides (Psalm 25:4, Galatians 5:1), a Fetial imagined that his flatteries and offerings could manipulate the deity even to the degree that he could help his god settle into the constrictions of human convention.
The fantastically arrogant Fetiales basically peopled Rome's foreign affairs, were often instrumental in the declaration of war and thus with forwarding the Empire. Ultimately, the Fetiales and their madness led to the creation of religion as we know it. The word Fetial is of unknown origin, but here at Abarim Publications we wouldn't be surprised if it would one day be found to relate to the Greek noun φητης (phetes), from our verb φημι (phemi), to convey, which is where our noun προφητης (prophetes) comes from.
The name Druid is a combination of the Proto-Indo-European root deru- (hence our English word tree) and the Proto-Indo-European root weid-, meaning to see. The Druids were the tree-seers and although that name has never been properly explained, here at Abarim Publications we're pretty sure it refers to the same complicated concepts which the Bible calls the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life (Genesis 2:9). See our article on the word εθνος (ethnos) meaning nation, for a closer look at this Tree and its healing leaves (Revelation 22:2). And check out our article on the word σταυρος (stauros) for a quick review of how in antiquity investigators used trees as public billboards to broadcast what had been proven to not work and what was to be rejected by society at large to avoid calamities and death (and see below under the discussion of the word ψευδοπροφητης, pseudoprophetes, meaning false prophet, why incorrect statements should be publicized rather than correct ones).
The Vates appear to have operated mostly as seers and were under the authority of the Druids, and their legacy is forever cemented in the name Vatican (= place of the Vates). The name Vates may come from a Proto-Indo-European root wet-, meaning to inspire or to blow (into a fire). This root also gave us the German verb wissen, meaning to know, and the noun Wissenschaft, meaning knowledge or science (compare Dutch: weten and wetenschap). These Vates were apparently known for their excitement and ecstasy as a closely related strand of words from the same ancient root gave us the German word Wut, meaning rage (compare Dutch: woede). Scholars have proposed an altogether different Proto-Indo-European root widhu- to explain our English word wood (and similar words of the same meaning in many European languages) but here at Abarim Publications we roguishly surmise that the two are one in fact.
The not decaying Holy One
The name Bard possibly comes from the Proto-Indo-European root gwere-, from which we get our word grace. Prior to the invention of script, antiquity's vast library of knowledge was too large to be remembered — after all, metallurgy, cosmology, genetic engineering and domestication of animals such as dogs and sheep and plants such as grain and corn, knowledge and applications of natural materials and quite possibly technologies that are now lost, were all invented in the Stone Age, long before script was. To preserve and negotiate all that data a kind of data-compression technology was invented, namely a highly complex cyclic and fractalic lyric prose. To the untrained ear these lyric sounded cute enough (like our modern English Bibles), but to people who had the keys (like, say, the key of David; Revelation 3:7), these texts unfolded like a multi-dimensional fractal matrix of vastly unimaginable proportions (Isaiah 34:4, John 21:25). Writing was probably invented because Bards were becoming overwhelmed and needed mnemonics to help them. A knot in a hanky became a dot on a wall, which became a dot and a line, and so on.
We moderns like our texts linear, which is why our stories usually begin at the beginning and end at the end and have huge long-winded bits in the middle, but our oldest texts (Homer and the Bible and such) are of a level of complexity that very few among us are able to appreciate. Famous 18th and 19th century Jewish sages such as Vilna Gaon and Shneur Zalman went so far as to state that the Torah contained the entire universe.
A true prophet is a person who speaks out of those underlying patterns, directly from the Word of God. Since natural evolution progresses according to natural law, a prophet will on occasion predict the future, but that is because a prophet has insights in the most intimate workings of the present, and every present is a reflection of those same natural laws. There's nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9) and all things that happen are manifestations of patterns that have existed since the beginning of time (Psalm 78:2, Matthew 13:10-13). Once one is able to recognize which general principle applies to a given situation, one can easily foretell the outcome.
Knowledge is the stone with which we build our world, but stones need concrete to be stuck together, and the finer the details of one's knowledge are, the smaller the stones of one's world, and the more they will be like sand that blows away when any breeze arises. Although knowledge is held in extremely high regard, the New Testament invests much energy in the discussion of the concept of αγαπη (agape), or love. Paul writes that the love of Christ surpasses all knowledge (Ephesians 3:19). Someone who has the precious gift of prophecy, and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and is able to convince a mountain to move out of his way, but has no love, is nothing (1 Corinthians 13:2), and "nothing" is a very big word in a world that is focused on construction.
Our noun ποφητης (prophetes), meaning prophet, or someone who passes on what he has learned about natural law, is used 148 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and comes with the following derivations:
- The verb προφητευω (propheteuo), meaning to be a prophet, to prophesy; or to pass on what one has learned about natural law. It's not unusual for Koine Greek to use a verb that derives from a noun that was earlier derived from a verb that described an act. But the act of fishing for natural law and teaching these laws to the rest of mankind gave rise to the noun prophetes (a scientific fisherman), which in turn yielded the verb propheteuo meaning to be a prophet, or to be a scientific fisherman. It's the result of an established modus operandi, and describes the doings of a member of the thus specified guild. This verb is used 28 times, see full concordance, and from it in turn comes:
- The noun προφητεια (propheteia), meaning prophecy or a passing on of what one has learned about natural law. This noun describes the act of the parent verb: the thing that prophets do. In Biblical practice, this noun describes the forwarding of any kind of scientific statement, or any kind of act that comes from a thorough and intimate understanding of natural law and natural patterns. This noun occurs 19 times; see full concordance.
- The adjective προφητικος (prophetikos), meaning prophetic; pertaining to the passing on of what one has learned about natural law (Romans 16:26 and 2 Peter 1:19 only).
- The noun προφητις (prophetis), meaning prophetess. This noun isn't really a derivative of our masculine noun ποφητης (prophetes), but simply the female version of it. As its masculine sibling, this feminine noun derives from the unused parent verb προφημι (prophemi), which consists of προ (pro), meaning before or in front of, and the verb φημι (phemi), meaning to convey. This noun is used in Luke 2:36 and Revelation 2:20 only.
- Together with the adjective ψευδης (pseudes), meaning false, deceptive or willful misrepresenting: the noun ψευδοπροφητης (pseudoprophetes), meaning false prophet. Prophesy is not about foretelling the future but about conveying how things work. Back then, as much as in our modern world today, giving someone incorrect information adds significant risk to whatever operation this person is engaged in. Pretending to be an expert (at the stock market, at psychology, at cancer treatment) while you are not, is likely to cause great loss and grief. Whether someone is a true prophet or a false one can only be told from the measure of agreement between their assessment of a situation and the observable result of it. If there is agreement, the person might be a prophet but might also simply have guessed right. If there is a discrepancy, the person is certainly not a prophet, and his legacy can be publicly exposed by hanging it on a tree. This is the reason why theories that fail tests give greater certainty than ones that pass. A proven theory should be handled with caution whereas a busted one may be published with great fanfare and gratitude (Deuteronomy 21:22-23, Malachi 3:3). This noun is used 11 times; see full concordance.